As the traditional complement to last week’s Top 10 Films, here are the Top Performances of 2012. The Golden Globes categories obviously inspired the absurdist split into drama and comedy of Best Supporting Actor. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as the top of the class, and the runners up being right behind them, and the also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.
Best Supporting Actor (Drama)
John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene) His cult leader is as scary and charismatic as his Teardrop in Winter’s Bone, you believe this man could hold Martha in his thrall even as initial love-bombing degenerates into sexual abuse and criminal adventures.
Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method, On the Road) His droll Freud is charismatic and delivers great put-downs but is deeply ambiguous; did he deliberately corrupt Jung? As genteel junky William Burroughs he was unexpectedly warm and sane.
Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe, Magic Mike) Wonderfully sleazy as Cabaret’s MC (sic), he erased his rom-coms with a revelatory Joe; icily calm, thawed by love, and psychotic.
Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, Haywire) His very precise turn as the dishonest android enlivened Prometheus, while his Haywire killer was very dashing.
Sam Neill (The Hunter) Neill’s gravitas and underplayed emotional torment gave a weight to his dialogue scenes with Dafoe that underpinned Dafoe in the wilderness.
Trystan Gravelle (Stella Days) His teacher inspired Martin Sheen’s priest to defiance, but he also played the attraction to his landlady with great subtlety.
Best Supporting Actor (Comedy)
Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) Miller, as flamboyant senior Patrick, displays startling range in portraying charismatic rebel after his troubled loner in We Need to Talk About Kevin. His turn is an exuberant joy that tramples clichés of gay characters in high-school movies.
Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods) Whitford as a military-industrial office drone organised absurd office gambling pools, snarled obscenities at video monitors, indulged in an unbelievably funny speakerphone prank, and rampaged hilariously thru great dialogue.
Adam Brody (Damsels in Distress) His musings on decadence’s decline would get this nod, but Brody also makes his character a good soul given to self-aggrandising deception.
Liev Schreiber (Goon) He makes us care for his lousy hockey player who dutifully serves his team, and establishes a convincing bond with his challenger Scott.
James Ransone (Sinister) His Deputy, embarrassingly eager to assist the hero’s research and so get a book acknowledgment, single-handedly lightens a tense film.
Richard Ayoade (The Watch) His deadpan delivery of utter nonsense and total logic is hysterical, as he synchs with the filthy absurdity purveyed by Hill and Rogen.
Alec Baldwin (To Rome with Love) Baldwin’s reality-bending interfering commentary on Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page’s burgeoning romance is Annie Hall-esque.
Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) The Greatest Actor of His Generation (TM) is actually wonderful here as the kindly earnest scoutmaster unable to control his troops.
Best Supporting Actress
Sarah Paulson (Martha Marcy May Marlene) She excellently layered Lucy’s relief at getting her missing sister Martha back, with guilt at perhaps having driven her away originally, and a mingled desperation and despair over the prospects of healing her psychic scars.
Sophie Nelisse (Monsieur Lazhar) As Alice, the traumatised but kind girl who most appreciates what M. Lazhar is trying to do for the class, this Quebecois Dakota Fanning gives a stunningly mature performance based on unspoken grief.
Shaleine Woodley (The Descendants) She displayed considerable spark as the troubled 17 year old banished to boarding school, who’s surprisingly effective at buttressing her father’s parenting of her younger sister even as she tells him home truths.
Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) Hathaway essayed a great languorous voice, a wonderful slinky physicality, and a good chemistry with Batman, as well equal viciousness with quips and kicks, but her delightful presence was sorely underused.
Helene Florent (Cafe de Flore) Her abandoned wife sinking into depression at the loss of her life-long partner gives the film its emotional weight.
Ellen Page (To Rome with Love) Page’s madly attractive actress gets a huge build-up from Greta Gerwig and lives up to it with gloriously shallow sophistication.
Megalyn Echikunwoke (Damsels in Distress) Echikunwoke madly milks her recurring line about ‘playboy operators’ and has an amazing character moment.
Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) Banks is very funny delivering callous lines as talent scout Effie.
Roisin Barron (Stitches) Barron’s verbally abrasive and physically abusive mean girl reminded me of Keira Knightley’s early swagger.
Kristin Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) Her terrifying Press Secretary; reshuffling the P.M.’s Cabinet for him, verbally abusing her own children; stole the film.
Mae Whitman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) Whitman is hilariously narcissistic and garrulous as she dominates her unfortunate boyfriend.
Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus) A 75 year old assaults Jimmy Nesbitt and you feel concerned for him – Redgrave oft conjures up that ferocity as Fiennes’ mother.
Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Liberal Arts) Olsen’s debut as cult member Martha was startlingly assured – naive victim and spiteful malefactor – and her thoughtful and witty Zibby was a comedic turn of great charm and depth.
Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook) Imperious as Katniss: a great action heroine who combined a will of steel with being a surrogate mother. Her depressed Tiffany was quicksilver magic, flirty to angry in mere seconds.
Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method, Anna Karenina) Knightley excelled at Anna’s early empathy, but she was startlingly alien as the hysteric Sabina who recovers to a nuanced fragility.
Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) Watson is luminous as the sardonic senior who makes it her project to transform an isolated freshman into a fellow Rocky Horror performer.
Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) Stone’s witty and very determined Gwen Stacy makes you realise how poorly used Dallas Bryce Howard was and how flat out poor Kirsten Dunst was.
Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires) Gail, the sister with an inflated opinion of herself and a sharp mouth, is a meaty part with a lot of zinging put-downs.
Lola Creton (Goodbye First Love) Creton’s arc from teenage suicidal despair to apparent and actual contentment was utterly convincing, especially in her unease around her lost love.
Michael Fassbender (Shame) His remarkably raw performance made us sympathise with a sex-addict scared of being rumbled at work, but that panicked despair on his face had a flipside, the predatory smile when picking up women. Balancing both was sublime.
Woody Harrelson (Rampart) This tour-de-force made us care for a repellent character. Yes, he was a jerk and a dirty cop, but desired to do the right thing as he saw it.
Willem Dafoe (The Hunter) Dafoe’s physical presence as he stalked the Tasmanian bush was equalled by his emotional integration into the family he lodged with.
Mohamed Said Fellag (Monsiuer Lazhar) Fellag’s strict but loving teacher knows how to help the class recover from trauma and, driven by his loss, defies orders not to.
Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) His drunken Irish soul man lifts the movie to comic heights it wouldn’t have hit, especially in his fractious relationship with Gail.
Muhammet Uzuner (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) Dr Cemal was a creation of immense humanity, his Stoic voiceover while the camera observed waving grass at night mesmerising.
Taner Birsel (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) Prosecutor Nusret was splendidly subtle, a man of equal empathy and diplomacy who slowly crumbles when deconstructed by Dr Cemal.
Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus) Fiennes was fierce as a man of exceptional courage and nobility who will not humble himself for ‘appearances’.
Christoph Waltz (Carnage) His compulsive starting of fires, followed by excusing himself to shout “Hello, Walter!” into his phone, was joyous.